Thursday, January 12, 2012

What Gloria Vanderbilt Can Teach Us

A couple of nights ago I almost resigned from Facebook. Or quit or unsubscribed or unfriended myself. Over a political post by someone I know that was a pretty unpleasant rant about George W Bush and Republicans and how the mess we're in is all somehow their fault... in spite of the fact that the country was being run by a Democrat congress and a Democrat administration and things are, if anything, worse than ever. But I digress. What prompted my fit of pique was the name-calling and cheap shots and the apparent unwillingness to want to engage in a conversation, be civil -- remember after Gabrielle Giffords was shot how everybody and his brother wanted everyone and his brother to be more civil? That lasted all of about five minutes.

And looking at the responses to this entry I felt increasingly left out, apart: my Facebook "friends" all seem to think alike. I've never felt very "part of" and this just confirmed my outsider status. And on top of everything, I took this much too personally. So I posted a little hissy-fit comment and threatened to kiss Facebook goodbye. Until someone almost immediately responded and suggested I sleep on it. Which was good advice.

This morning on the way to work I was thinking about a post on this very blog from a few weeks ago, the one about the little girl holding up a hand-printed sign about Safeway, her father being fired by the cold, callous company, the billions of dollars the company made last year... all by way of showing us how those greedy Safeway bastards are ruining peoples' lives while they live the high life. The photo had been posted to Facebook at the height of the Occupy movement and, typically, everyone thought it was just great and right-on. But I took it on myself to investigate the numbers and see where those billions in profits went, to find out how much money it takes to run a national company like Safeway which, incidentally, not only employs a lot of people but feeds millions with the food it sells. I used facts to rebut a pretty simplistic statement. And along the way I made a snarky comment about the little girl and "The Bad Seed". I couldn't resist.

Then the other day I received an e-mail informing me that someone had posted a comment to the blog post to the effect that "that's my daughter, what do you want to know?" Immediately I felt terrible for having poked fun at the little girl and her picture and I started a long email apology,but then wondered if in fact that really was the girl's mother, for one thing; and if I really wanted to get into a big "thing" with someone I had never met. Still, my sense of guilt runs deep and I realized that maybe what I thought was wit was really just a cheap shot. And that maybe, just maybe, I really had hurt someone's feelings.

Some years ago I was reading, for some reason, Gloria Vanderbilt's memoir, a slim volume of reminiscences in which she talks about the hurts she's had in her life, suggesting that we all be kind to one another, because everyone is fighting a great battle: we just don't know what other people are going through. 

So let's say that it's all true: maybe this little girl is going through a tough patch, her father unemployed, her mother's feelings hurt by a blog post that wasn't meant to harm anyone or give offense or hurt anyone's feelings. I can certainly see how they might not find my Noel Cowardesque bon mots particularly funny. 

I don't think Gloria Vanderbilt came up with that quote about being kind to each other on her own -- it seems to me I've seen variations of it before. But the fact remains, they're good words to live by. As much as my feelings were hurt by the Facebook rant of an acquaintance of mine, maybe some stranger out there felt the sting of my "wit", someone fighting a great battle. I know I've fought my share.

1 comment:

  1. Remember start an uproar on Facebook, all you have to do is say something..anything at all. I appreciate this essay. I don't agree with you at all about the country being worse than under the former administration..but I do respect your opinion and strongly dislike people that cannot carry on a civil conversation or debate. Cheers, Bratprince!